Summoned back from summer break, the House on Tuesday pushed through an emergency $26 billion jobs bill that Democrats said would save 300,000 teachers, police and others from election-year layoffs. President Barack Obama immediately signed it into law.
Lawmakers streamed back to Washington for a one-day session as Democrats declared a need to act before children return to classrooms minus teachers laid off because of budgetary crises in states that have been hard-hit by the recession.
Republicans saw it differently, calling the bill a giveaway to teachers’ unions and an example of wasteful Washington spending that voters will punish the Democrats for in this fall’s elections. The legislation was approved mainly along party lines by a vote of 247-161.
The aid for the states is to be paid for mostly by closing a tax loophole used by multinational corporations and by reducing food stamp benefits for the poor.
Obama, joined by teachers at a Rose Garden ceremony earlier in the day, said, “We can’t stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children or keep our communities safe.”
The Senate narrowly passed the measure last Thursday, after the House had begun its August break.
The legislation provides $10 billion to school districts to rehire laid-off teachers or to ensure that more teachers won’t be let go before the new school year begins. The Education Department estimates that could save 160,000 jobs.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said his department would streamline the application process to get the money to local school districts quickly. He said three-fourths of the nation’s districts have said they would be opening the school year with fewer teachers and “we wanted to avert a crisis for this year.”